Twelve hours, fourteen hours of that a day, every day, with a white guy on a horse whipping your enthusiasm up every time you stop to wipe the sweat out of your eyes. And then, lucky you, you get to go home to a cage and a bowl of corn mush before sacking out for a few hours. Then it's up at the crack of dawn, or rather whip, and back into the fields.
That was life for black Haitians for a long, long time. And it got them seriously pissed off. The revolts started early and just kept on coming. Now this is a weird thing, the way the Haitian slaves kept on fighting back. Because -- and I'm sorry to be so un-PC here, but it's the truth -- slaves in the British possession didn't revolt much. There never was a big, serious slave revolt in the South, for example. Not even when the Union troops got close. Even then the slaves did what their masters told them to do.
But the French didn't do as good a job of breaking down the new slaves. The English in Jamaica, Barbados and the Southern US states made sure slaves from different tribes were mixed up, made it punishable by flogging or worse to speak African languages, and forced the blacks to find Christ or die. (Ah, you gotta love those Evangelical assholes!)
The French were sloppy. They let slaves from the same tribes stay together and speak their African languages. They let escaped slaves set up their own villages way inside the tropical forests. They let the slaves keep up African religions -- that's what voodoo is. And they started up a separate mulatto class.
The mulattos are the hardest thing for Americans to understand about Haiti. The thing is, everybody's racist, everybody in the damn world -- but different countries are racist in different ways. Example: I was watching the Ali G show and he's messing with some stuffed-shirt Oxford guy who says to Ali, "Well, you're only saying that because you're black." I'm watching, thinking, "He's not even brown. He's barely tan!" Well, that's because they've got their own racism, where I guess anybody who's not totally white is black.
American racism down South was kind of like that. If you had any black blood, you were black. That was it, period. You were a nigger, and not a person.
The French didn't do it that way. They had this half-and-half class, the mulattos, who were free, could get rich, even get educated. And the French treated them sort of like semi-human beings. So the mulattos started identifying with the French, trying to be French, and then getting mad when they were kept out of power. So sometimes they backed the French, sometimes the slaves. They were the wild card -- they could go either way.
So when the rebellions started around 1750, you had this amazing, totally messed-up little island full of crazy people who were all going crazy in different ways. Out in the forests are escaped slaves still speaking African languages, doing voodoo and sharpening their machetes. On the plantations there are hundreds of thousands of black slaves getting worked to death under the whip -- and they've got machetes too. In the cities and in little towns are the mulattos, who speak French and wear those George-Washington three-cornered hats and want a bigger piece of the pie. On top of them is a thin layer of jumpy French colonists who have a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude with any slave who gets uppity. And on top of them are a few French government types who keep trying to put the whole mess back into control and make it a nice, comfortable French province.
Guess what? It blowed up. It blowed up real good. The first big explosion was in 1751. A voodoo priest stirred up the escaped slaves in the forest and they attacked the settlements. The field slaves joined them, and 6,000 people died before the French captured the voodoo priest and burned him at the stake. And what saved the French was that this time, the mulattos weighed in against the rebels. They didn't like these crazy African voodoo guerrillas any more than the French did. They just wanted to eat their croissants and talk about l'amour with the white folks.